People with disability have warned independent assessments are making it harder to access publicly funded support as part of a review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) proposed independent assessment program.
The Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS heard evidence from a range of ACT's disability community last week, the majority of which oppose the reforms as they’ve been proposed.
The piloted program involves independent assessors who use a questionnaire to determine people’s needs and level of funding.
Jeffrey Smart, who has Parkinson's disease, told the parliamentary committee his independent assessment was inaccurate, incomplete and irrelevant.
Mr Smart volunteered to take part in the trial out of curiosity and because he believed he had the "capacity and resilience to look after [himself]".
The assessment was done by a clinical psychologist who had little detailed knowledge of the condition, had not met him before and did not have access to his degenerative disease history.
“My assessor was a clinical psychologist whose understanding of Parkinson's and its implications were very limited," Mr Smart says.
"I was offended and felt belittled, not only were the questions irrelevant but I struggled to comprehend where the assessor was going and was not being asked questions which would assess what my actual impairments are.
"Participating in the pilot has left me flat and feeling dejected.
“I am anxious, angry, disappointed and very tired."
Mr Smart says the report would not be useful to determine eligibility or levels of support.
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ross Joyce is also among advocates raising concerns over the proposed reforms.
Mr Joyce told the hearing last week he is not against independent assessments but is concerned about the speed at which these reforms are being pushed through.
“It will not work, it will be to the detriment of people with disabilities and their families and we can't accept that as something that just gets pushed through,” Mr Joyce says.
“We do not accept the way it's been put forward.
“We have actually felt completely disrespected through the whole process.”
Concerns raised at the hearings last week include worries about the lack of consultation and transparency, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model being culturally insensitive, and the proposed changes undermining the principles of control and choice the NDIS was founded upon.
Currently, annual plans are drawn up by the scheme's planners with input from a participant's own medical team.
The reforms, as currently proposed, would instead see participants assessed by a Government-contracted health professional.
Using standardised tools, the assessor would ask the participant personal questions and request they complete certain tasks before making a decision about their eligibility for the scheme, level of funding and support they can receive.
The Government and National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) say the proposed assessments are a simpler and more equitable way of gauging a person’s capacity, while supporting fairer decisions about scheme access.
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds was asked about the widespread concerns at the hearing on Tuesday and says she has heard the “anxiety and concern” around the proposed assessments, but remains committed to introducing them in some form.
In a statement, Senator Reynolds says “my priority is building a sustainable, enduring and fair NDIS for generations to come".
“An extra $17 billion has been allocated by the federal government to the scheme over the last two budgets.
“This demonstrates the need for federal, state and territory governments to work together to manage increasing costs to protect its future.”
At a previous hearing, Senator Reynolds told the committee that the NDIS was on an "unsustainable growth trajectory".
Earlier this month, the federal budget showed the cost of NDIS participant plans growing to $31.9 billion by 2024/25.
More than 450,000 Australians are currently supported by the $25 billion scheme, which is jointly funded by the Federal and State and Territory Governments.
Senator Reynolds says she “wants the scheme to endure” and is “consulting genuinely and transparently with all stakeholders on all issues before finalising any proposals”.
“I don't think any of them [the concerns] are insurmountable to address and there are real ways that we can make changes,” Senator Reynolds says.
“But from my perspective that will only occur if we can find a way to work together.”